Quit throwing out the scary stuff: compost it instead!


    As I emptied buckets of human waste into a bin filled with red wigglers, the realization hit me: I had reached peak compost.

    This was it. Eggshells and hair were just gateway drugs.

    Later I got into the hard stuff: moldy lasagna, spoiled stew, roadkill… And now here I was in the freezing cold, feeding sewage to hungry worms living in a derelict fridge-turned-compost-bin filled with espresso grounds, office paper shreds, produce stand wastes, the neighbor’s leaves and beautiful, amazing humus-in-progress.

    I had arrived.

    I don’t know about you, but I get sick of all the publications telling us what we CAN’T compost. Nature composts almost everything, right? If a bear leaves a dropping in the woods, does someone come along and put it in a landfill? When a possum gets nailed on the railroad tracks, does Mother Nature show up with gloves, bleach and plastic bags to take the corpse away?


    Yet here we are, making lists all the time. “No paper! No oils! No meat!” And then we go out and buy fertilizer and compost for our gardens. Not me! Instead of giving in to rank commercialism and nail-biting of other garden writers, I pressed on and figured out how to compost every bit of organic matter passing through our household.

    From Steve Solomon I learned the Native American practice of burying slaughter wastes and feces in pits, then planting squash, corn and sunflowers over them. It worked like a charm and I didn’t have to feed those crops all season. From Joseph Jenkins I learned a safe method of composting human waste and returning it to the soil instead of into the inefficient and water-wasting municipal sewer system. From Paul Wheaton and Sepp Holzer I learned how to bury tree trimmings in hugelkultur mounds and increase soil fertility and moisture for a decade or more.

    And I did a ton of experiments on my own that proved just how silly the rules were – and I’m still experimenting. So what if you don’t get your C/N ratio correct? It’s better than throwing out that organic matter!

    After ten years of pushing the envelope, I composted the envelope itself and wrote a book on extreme composting. Too many of us are scared because of well-meaning publications telling us what we can’t put in our compost pile. Nature isn’t so picky. Just throw it on the ground! (Or in the ground!) There are safe ways to compost almost everything. Learn them and just do it.

    Your local landfill will thank you.

    David The Good is the author of Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting and the creator of the daily gardening site TheSurvivalGardener.com. His hobbies include memorizing Latin names and confusing Master Gardeners. Check out his popular YouTube channel .

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    Elizabeth Licata

    Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

    Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


    1. One question I have on composting paper. What about the inks on glossy stuff. Are they harmful? I think some colors used to contain metals like cobalt. Is there a risk there, or is it such a small amount that it doesn’t matter?

    2. Thank you! I’ve long felt the same way. And, so far, no one has died from eating anything grown in my garden with my extreme compost.

    3. Fun story… though I draw the limit on composting my humanure. I think David could really step up his game though and use is waste as building materials for human made adobe homes for the poor or something. I am sure there is a website devoted to that somewhere.

      In regards to the “soy” inks… only a very small portion of printing inks are oils of any kind… so a majority of the ink is other chemicals that are far from natural. Working in a bit with the printing industry, if you actually go on a press run, nothing smells natural about it… there are plenty of chemicals used throughout the process.

      Since I have recycling available, all printing materials go there instead. In the big picture, the bit of bad stuff you get from printing materials probably isn’t going to do much harm… but why not limit it when you can.

    4. Have you tried mangosteen fruit shells? I have left it outside exposed to rain and sun for YEARS and apart from drying out, nothing wants to touch it. It seems to resist insects/mould/lichen/bacteria/fungi.

    5. I can see using urine in composting but human feces is a bit too much. Unless you live out in the country where you have some acreage and not too many nosey neighbors. Being a city girl, I just don’t think it is feasible.


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